Friday, June 17, 2011

Love, Land, Legacy - If Sons, Then Heirs

Have you read any of Lorene Cary’s books? She’s the author of Black Ice, an important memoir about a Black woman coming of age and making it through prep school. She also wrote the wonderful The Price of a Child, a novel set during the American slavery era that is a powerful evocation of a mother’s love.

She has a new book, released in April, If Sons, Then Heirs. Before I read even a synopsis of the book I was hearing that it was amazing. We were so happy to be able to schedule her for #blacklitchat on Twitter.

The novel is about the Needham family and opens with Jewell Thompson, an estranged daughter, in Philadelphia. She is out of sorts after hearing from her son, Alonzo Rayne (known as Rayne to everyone, but Lonnie to her).

Rayne wrote to Jewell, hoping that he’d found the right woman – that is, the mother who abandoned him.

When you begin reading If Sons, Then Heirs (and you really should), you’ll notice right away that Cary’s writing is beautiful and her descriptions of even simple details elevate the story. For example, describing a building as “this shiny black cookie jar of a building.”

Without giving away too much detail, I will say that of all the very complicated and strained relationships in the story, Cary renders them beautifully. The love and respect between Lillie and Rayne; the memories Selma has of King; and the painful, but short history between Rayne and his mother, Jewell.

And the growing bond between Rayne and Khalil, his girlfriend’s son, is inspiring. You can feel how much their family of three wants the man and the boy to be father and son and how tricky and terrifying it is to state and live the connection. The possibility of heartbreak is so strong in the story – with Rayne and Khalil, and it echoes Rayne’s seven-year-old abandonment.

What’s also wonderful in this book is the use of history, land ownership and the impact of family separation and northern migration to drive the story. It’s a great story that relies on research but doesn’t get bogged down in it.

During our chat, Lorene Cary mentioned that someone had said that the American story (or American novel?) has driving as a theme. And that is certainly a theme in If Sons, Then Heirs. Rayne and Khalil go on a road trip and the trip, the time they spend down South changes their lives and the entire family.

There is so much more I could say about this rich story. Well worth reading and sharing.

(By the way, I purchased my copy of this book. I did not receive a review copy. I need to start making that clear in my posts).

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